Stage: Wednesday, July 11, 2002
Reeling in the Years

Bruce Wood delves into recent history and comes up with three new ballets.


Charging through the smoke of recent negative rumors and personnel changes, Bruce Wood Dance Company is presenting an all-happy, all-pops dance program Saturday. Wood has fashioned familiar music of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s into three ballets celebrating the flavor of each decade.

“Actually, this is my first full-evening ballet,” Wood said. “When I started Spontaneous Combustion, the 1960s section, three years ago, I already had in mind doing ’50s and ’70s music in separate ballets and lining them up under one umbrella. I thought it would make an entertaining evening, especially for summer, when nobody really wants anything you have to think about.”

He calls the result Culture Shock, and it is, in a way, a jolt, being reminded of society’s dramatic shifts in those brief periods — from the naïve and airy attitudes of the 1950s, Domestic Bliss, to the joyous, self-centered awakenings of the ’60s, to the delusional longings for satisfying relationships of the ’70s, Polyester Dreams.

The first two sections have been seen before. Domestic Bliss, a spoof on the “simple” American life after World War II, opens with a deliriously happy housewife dry-mopping her floor with almost orgasmic pleasure. Early tv ads and familiar theme songs dot the horizon, and its good-natured inventiveness takes on a deeper dynamic when joined to the other ballets.

Spontaneous Combustion bears witness to the 1960s youth rebellion, which was driven by a new sexual awareness and an emerging drug culture. Wood captures that era’s heady openness and pleasure-seeking in sensual movements and funky dress, and we sense, too, the underlying innocence of the time.

For the 1970s, Wood eschewed disco music for something more meaningful. “I didn’t want to go there,” he said, “and in thinking about it, I realized the music that reached me most was sung by black artists: Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five. So that’s where Polyester Dreams began.”

Seen in rehearsal, the piece emphasizes personal relationships. Solos become duets, trios, and quartets, and each merges into the full company of 12 and then breaks away, ending with a couple standing alone looking into each other’s eyes as a final reprise of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” plays in the background.

Since the company’s last appearance three months ago, bumps have turned up in the road, slowing the forward momentum that once seemed unstoppable.

Seeking to expand its financial outreach and relieve Wood and the board of directors of mounting administrative headaches after five years of steady growth, an executive director, John Stevens, was hired in April. But the shoe didn’t fit, and he is already gone, amidst finger-pointing and apparent misunderstandings about what the position was all about. At the same time, rumors began surfacing that Wood was living lavishly at company expense and committing administrative sins, including failure of the company to file appropriate tax information. Four board members took flight before board president Joe Groves issued a letter rebutting each of the accusations.

“I feel violated,” Wood said of the incident. “Do you know what it’s like having your personal records and tax returns open to the public? You feel naked.” His tax returns show no income for 1996 though 1998, $7,325 in 1999, $43,864 in 2000, and $53,785 in 2001.

With a first national tour booked in the fall it won’t be long before Fort Worth’s best-kept secret — that it is home to one of the finest dance troupes in the country — will be out. Maybe then he can find funding — out of town if not Fort Worth. They say nothing succeeds like success, and that he has, hands down.

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